Defra quadruples SFI actions available to farmers

SFI actions now available to farmers and land manager more than quadruple versus last year
SFI actions now available to farmers and land manager more than quadruple versus last year

Defra has expanded the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) offer from 23 to 102 actions following a merger with Countryside Stewardship (CS) Mid Tier.

Details of the new SFI offer available to farmers from July have been published by the government today (21 May).

It will be open to new entrants for the first time and will initially comprise 102 actions, including over 20 new options to support food production.

A new and expanded offer has also been announced for upland farmers, as well as more actions for tenants on short-term contracts.

More than 50 simplified actions from CS Mid Tier will be merged into SFI to streamline the application process for farmers, Defra explained.

They include a number of actions where durations have been reduced from 5 to 3 years to align with the needs of tenant farmers.

Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “I recognise that farmers have had to deal with difficult circumstances this year, which is why we have delivered on our commitment to provide further detail on the expanded SFI offer ahead of applications opening in July.

“The new expanded SFI offer gives farmers more choice, makes things easier and pays out more, so they can get on with the important job of producing high quality food in a sustainable way.”

From July, farmers will be able to access options currently available in CS Mid Tier, actions from the SFI offer, plus new actions announced at the Oxford Farming Conference all through one scheme – which will be called the SFI.

Defra said that bringing the schemes under one name "means farmers can access the best of both offers, the flexibility of the SFI with the breadth, scale and ambition of CS MT, just with less paperwork".

Expressions of interest have now opened for those wishing to apply through the controlled roll out, ahead of the offer being fully self service in July.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) will invite a mix of customers into the controlled roll out at the end of this month to test the service and gather feedback.

Responding, the NFU said it was 'encouraging' that the new offer appeared to be 'improved, broader and more flexible' - changes that the union had been asking for.

NFU deputy president, David Exwood said: “Farmers and growers will need to take a close look at the latest developments provided by Defra and consider how these can be applied on farm.

“It is important now that Defra and the RPA ensure that all these schemes have the resources needed to make delivery a success.

“All farming sectors are feeling the squeeze following the cumulative loss of direct payments over the past four years and the slow transition to the ELM scheme."

Defra has also confirmed that the application window for CS Higher Tier will open in the winter, with agreements starting in January 2025.